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tumbleweeds
by chrissy k. mcVay

A part of me had been staring south for a long time. We finally found the courage to move that direction. We sold our two-story Indiana home and found land in the mountains of Western North Carolina. I figured combining my husband’s Irish/Scotsman ancestry with the southern roots on my mother’s side would satisfy the wild seeds in both of us. We put everything into four acres of land near Little Switzerland, North Carolina, with just a pocketful of cash to keep us fed until my handyman husband established a client base again. I tried to sleep the nights before the bank closed on our Indiana home sale without clenching my jaw. What had we done?

Since 9-11 I’d noticed many families rush to ‘circle the wagons’. Some moved closer to relatives, clinging to the thread of blood being thicker than water. The floodgates on fear had been let down and the nation shifted. Shame over the desire to wildly fling all aside was now abandoned and we ran like hobos groping the empty boxcar on a train. Why wait for retirement to pursue our dream of a log cabin home in the woods?

With rushed preparation, we sold everything but my computer and our youngest child, Devan. Our son had recently become a teenager and was experiencing his own gurgles of impulsiveness. Perfect timing, given his parent’s brief bout with insanity. He was ready to become what he called ‘a Hippy child’ and live in a tent or yurt. His excitement calmed me a bit as the indigestible ‘what ifs’ churned in my stomach.

My husband, Tony, has always been a true pioneer. “Don’t worry honey,” he said. “My genes from the McVay’s dull witted, drunk ancestors combined with your barefooted Appalachian kin are perfect for mountain isolation.”

“Thanks dear,” I smirked. “You’ll get along well in the woods. By the way, Mom says my cousins in Arkansas stopped serving possum at the family reunions ten years ago.”

“Then I’m not going,” he said seriously.

Indeed, my fondest memories are of these open-toed-sandals, covered dish banquets was the way our southern relatives wore their smiles as easily as they wore their clothes; relaxed and haphazard. This casual manner was intoxicating compared to the lifestyle of a speed rabid Yankee.

At Aunt Sunshine’s house in Tennessee there were endless tables stacked bumper to bumper with food. If it really was road kill in those stewpots, the cooks were the most talented Chefs in the south. At my Georgia cousins’ homes, possum could stand on its own and taste as savory as any gourmet French Cuisine. Great care was taken to make sure none of the fur got into the pot, and not a trace of red clay could be found on the plates. What they lacked in possessions they made up for in vittles, and their ramshackle houses had plenty of room for bone gripping hugs that dripped with sincerity.

“Well, there are some ‘nearly once removed by a Judge’ Uncles in Tennessee who have coon dogs available if you’d like to hunt down your own possum. Rumor also has it that the Cagle side still makes their own home brew,” I assured my husband.

This brightened the sparkle in his eyes. I pictured his Scottish ancestors lifting a pint of stout and rousting the bagpipes. ‘Here goes another McVay straight to hell,’ the spirits laughed.

Despite my eagerness to start off on our new adventure, I was unable to uproot my anxiety. I believe not knowing the outcome of one’s actions is always the worst shade of change. I focused my attention on my burly husband. He had the shoulders of a lumberjack and heart of a Brahma Bull. I stumbled upon the true meaning of trust in another human being. We’d gone over all the details to launch our dream and time would tell if we’d told ourselves facts or fictions.

“Suffering can be good for the soul,” I sighed. I loaded the last tub of belongings in the back of the work trailer. We were used to stumbling forward in unison. In fact, we’d developed a unique talent for it.

I drove the van with our two Golden Retrievers hunched nervously in the back; legs sprawled on a castle of every pillow and blanket we owned. Our thirteen-year-old son rode ahead of me in the truck with his dad so he couldn’t smell my fear.

“Wagons Ho!” my husband shouted into the cell phone. He knew that my legs trembled and my face had probably gone pasty.

“Don’t be such a coward,” I told myself. “Your mother’s kin began down there in the dark hollows.” Wasn’t I just going home? I visualized myself cooking over a potbelly stove like Great Granny Gibson had done nearly all ninety-six years of her exuberant life. I swear her large brood had lived off bacon grease, fat-back, and mayonnaise sandwiches. What was I worried about?
After a few hours on the open trail we discovered that we were hardly the only pioneers. People just like us, brewed from poverty into brittle bits of heart and soul, were scattered like tumbleweeds across the country. I recognized the same pinched features, brazened by the uncertainty. We drifters stopped at convenience stations where we could find the lowest priced gas. Many forced nomads made time to chat with me. They must’ve realized from my disheveled appearance and lack of coinage that I was a tumbleweed too.

One woman was too tossed around by life, her frown sealed harder than the granite that held up the yellow lines on the road we followed. Hubby and her were from Texas. Their three-bedroom home sold fast but didn’t make much profit.

“The only factory in town left us,” she explained. “Just made enough to buy a camper and keep a foreclosure off our financial record.”

“My job floated overseas,” her husband half-laughed as he sidled up to the conversation. They both looked near fifty and in no mood to start over again.
I glanced at his camper home that rode piggyback on his pickup. I tried not to notice the two bald rear tires strained under the weight. “Where do you think you’ll go?” I asked.

She shrugged. “We buy a newspaper in every big town we pass through and look at the classifieds for a decent paying job. They can’t all go overseas.”
We soon discovered other tumbleweeds like the Texas couple, faces sagging, yet eyes peeking into the horizon. We met a young man on a motorcycle who was very eager to talk. He saw our Indiana license plates and his face blossomed. “I’m heading north,” he sang out. “I hear Canada.”

The mortgage on his ranch house had gone up due to the raised property taxes. When the wages at the auto plant where he worked were cut in half, he could no longer afford to live in his middle class neighborhood.

“I say screw it! Time for a change of citizenship.” He pointed to the cart being lugged behind his motorcycle and assured me there was a good size tent wadded up in there, as well as a thick sleeping bag.

“Be careful.” I said in a motherly way.

“I have clean underwear and socks, Mom” he teased. He revved the engine and took the highway at full speed. Here was someone not even twenty-five, perhaps running from a wagonload of misery, and willing to turn the blindest corner of all by leaving his own country.

“I hope he knows what he’s doing,” I told my husband anxiously.

“Chrissy, we’ve floated out here on hopes and dreams just like he has,” my husband reminded. “We’ve probably got a little more money than he does, but it’ll go fast, even if we live off tuna and grilled cheese.”

And so we wandered off. Strangers and friends, all content with our faith in human perseverance and hope as we shifted upon our karmic winds. Tony and I planned to squeeze the juice out of that breeze. I felt luckier than most of the tumbleweeds we passed. I gazed at puttering station wagons loaded to the windows with clothes and wondered how the occupants coped. At least Tony and I had a temporary shelter once we reached our destination.
After twelve hours on the highways we delivered ourselves into our new home; a broken down trailer. The sweet, elderly gentleman who’d sold us the land gave us the three-bedroom singlewide to live in until we built our new home. I rushed through the door like a young bride and tilted my head back as the mildew whacked me in the nostrils.

“She needs a bit of lipstick and rouge,” Tony said meekly.

“More like the entire Revlon Cosmetics counter,” I answered. My hope balloon deflated. But when I opened up one of the thin windows and took in a gulp of Blue Ridge Mountain air, a tingle went from my skull to my toes. Outside was a bounty of pine, oak, and rhododendron. There were valleys full of seasoned native grasses spun golden upon autumn’s sloped shoulders and a rainforest smell that permeated the breezes drifting under the wings of numerous red tailed hawks.

I felt my soul being polished to a shine brighter than the diamonds and emeralds surely hiding in the earth under our hills. Perhaps we twinkled even brighter than the Blue Ridge Gems, for we’d never be torn from our patch of land.

“Sweetheart, I’ll live here in a mud soddy with you,” I promised, and meant it.
My husband’s smile burst from the belly up. He watched me toil happily with disinfectant, primer, and paint. His adoration grew with each patch of yellowed tile I scrubbed clean. He turned to his own chore and cut away rotted boards. I knew his muscles must’ve ached after a full day of basically rebuilding what I’d nicknamed the ‘cardboard box’. Father and son never once complained as they ripped out moldy carpet and repaired the numerous holes in our warbled roof. Finally the major work was done and I could unpack.
Unloading our belongings had always turned into an adventure in our household, for I refused to label. As I opened and sorted over the next few days, it felt like an early Christmas.

“Oh…here’s the toaster,” I’d coo. My husband always nodded cheerfully. He’d been through this routine. When I unpacked the elusive coffee pot we basked in our good fortune and relaxed with a much-missed cup of java. We’d had Caffeine DT’s the last couple nights and the headaches and shakes had increased.

Each day our sacrifices seemed less severe as I discovered yet another item sorely missed. With glee we found our toothbrushes and paste. Finger swabs with baking soda didn’t seem to cut it.

“I’ve got a build up of plaque thicker than the corn crust on your Tennessee Grand Pappy’s moonshine still,” my husband laughed. He was having a boisterous time coming up with witty sarcasms that involved my backwoods relatives. To my horror, the humorous locals helped him think of new taunts.
My husband and son quickly retreated to the bathroom when I dug out other toiletries such as shavers and cologne. I’d never seen them so eager to scrub away the day’s dirt. I started to feel like a black market dealer in a foreign country as I doled out booty.

“At least we got to the soap right away. I was concerned about fleas or roundworm,” I said. “I’ll never have roundworm.”

“Never say never,” Tony mumbled through a thick mouthful of toothpaste.
If there was ever any doubt still nibbling at my confidence in being able to adapt to mountain life, I only had to look into my husband’s deep brown eyes and see the pure determination buried there. Besides, he’d never tromped on any of my dreams. Now it was my turn to bolster inspiration.

After the second week of tossing in my sleep while I dreamed of our former home back in Indiana, I went to the bathroom mirror to finally face myself. “This is enough,” I scolded the reflection with furrowed brows. “You have kin down here stretching from the Carolinas to Georgia. Everyone makes changes.” I stumbled back to bed and felt my husband reach for my hand. He picked up my fingers and lightly kissed them.

Don’t worry,” he whispered. “I’ll find work soon and you’ll publish your novel.” He stated it as if everything waited just around the next corner.

I thought back on our years together thus far. Anything Tony had set out to do he’d accomplished. We’d moved into our house back in Indiana seven years before when it was practically a run down shack. He’d quickly renovated each room and tripled the home’s value.

I was so glad he couldn’t see the tears in my eyes when I rolled toward him. “You’re absolutely right Mr. McVay. Our dreams are going to work out just fine, no more worrying. In fact, tomorrow morning I’ll call Grandma Tressie and get the old Gibson recipe for Tennessee Possum Stew. I’m sure we can figure out a way to teach our retrievers how to tree a critter for supper.”

 

Chrissy K. McVay has found great inspiration, and many friends, living in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Her first novel, ‘Souls of the North Wind’ was released in June 2005.

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